Savoury Sangiovese

September’s BBC2 was a postponed celebration of a birthday – and the custom is that the birthday girl gets to choose the theme which in this case was Sangiovese.  The likelihood, therefore, was there would be quite a lot of Tuscan, or at least, central Italian wines. The questions for a blind tasting might be:

  • would be able to spot any non-Italian wines?
  • would there be clear stylistic differences between the Tuscan zones: Chianti Classico, Montalcino, others?
  • how does Sangiovese age in the bottle?
  • how does Sangiovese compare in quality to other fine wines? 

The wines were sorted by one of our members and served in two main flights, with two outriders.  What did we learn from a blind tasting of 11 bottles?

Lesson Cheap and cheerful1.  Inexpensive Sangiovese can be a good, everyday wine

As a joker, I brought a Sangiovese di Romagna, Palastri, 2010.  This wine cost £4.65 (on special offer but a real price in Sainsburys) and was probably the cheapest wine ever brought to the BBC.  It showed simple, sour cherry and red plum fruit, moderate if present tannins and acidity but was perfectly drinkable and showed some regional character.  The trick is to have ripe enough fruit to give some real fruit character, moderate acidity and ripe tannins and then to keep it on its skins for just long enough to extract a good colour but not those powerful tannins for which this variety is famous.  This wine is a a tribute to the versatility of the Sangiovese grape and to clean, accurate, modern winemaking. It is also an important representative of the inexpensive wines which make Sangiovese the most planted of all Italian grape varieties, 10% of all area under vine in Italy is Sangiovese, from the Veneto down to Puglia. 

After this start, six wines were presented which were deemed to have something in common – not least that they were made with Sangiovese as the major grape variety. Blends were allowed as after all most Tuscan DOCs are blends.   

Lesson 2.  It is surprisingly difficult to spot the non-Italians (especially if they are 10+ years old)

take any six winesThere was a pretty wide consensus that the first of these six was not from central Italy – and we were right. Secondly, we thought that wine number 4 was not like the others – but we were wrong to think it was non-Tuscan.  Nor did we spot that wine 2 was the other non-Tuscan.  Wine 1 was in fact Hannibal, Bouchard Finlayson, Walker Bay, South Africa, 2002. It just about qualifies for this field as there is more of the nominated

S African and N American contributionsgrape variety (43%) than anything else and its partner varieties are not dominant ones or in high percentages – 23% Pinot Noir, 12% Nebbiolo, 11% Syrah, 6% Mourvedre, 5% Barbera.  Amber in colour, it gave off clear leather, chocolate, liquorice and balsam notes of an older oak-aged wine. The fruit was in the plum register and not surprisingly not particularly characteristic (age and blend).  More of a puzzle was Andrew Will, Pepper Bridge, Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, Washington State, USA, 1999.  A darker amber (though the light wasn’t good), some older wood notes, moderate sour cherry and plum (classic Sangiovese), fine grained tannin. 

Lesson 3.  It is also challenging to spot the classic Tuscan regions from other well made wines!

two Tuscan outlierstwo old Chianti riservas
The remaining four of the six were all Tuscan and as it turned out two were Chianti Classico and two were not.  As least we noticed that wine number 4 was different, though we had it in the new world rather than in southerly Tuscan Scansano. This is right as the Maremma is Tuscany’s new world – warmer and less constrained by rules.  L’Arcille, Poggio Trevvalle, Morellino di Scansano Riserva, 2007 was a high quality wine already developing attractive forest floor notes on the nose, while the palate was dense with modern clean fruit and lower acidity than some – warmer climate than Chianti if with some altitude.  The other non-Chianti was from northern Tuscany. Tenuta di Valgiano, Palistorti, Colline Lucchese, 2007 had lively acidity and tannin, and was quite rich on the nose and palate (tasted after the older Washingtonian), with old oak notes.  This flight finished with two more mainstream wines – La Prima, Castello Vicchiomaggio, Chianti Classico Riserva, 2001 and Rancia, Félsina Berardenga, Chianti Classico Riserva, 1999. Although there was a step up in intensity to La Prima, it was surprisingly light in body, even sleek, but not with the impact that you might expect from a big name.  The Berardenga was all that you might expect in terms of tertiary iodine and savoury, meaty notes with surprisingly high tannins which on this showing may never soften!

4.  Brunello di Montalcino shows its class

The final flight was three wines, a Rosso and two Brunello from the Montalcino appellation.  We did not taste these in the same flight as the preceding six but there was a marked step up in complexity and in class.  The Rosso (less ageing requirement) stood up well in this company:  San Polo, Rosso di Montalcino, 2007 had a slightly medicinal nose with fine the Montalcino threeSangiovese fruit to follow, in a classic austere style.  The second of these three was hailed as the wine of the evening: La Fuga, Brunello di Montalcino, 2001 with some restraint on the nose and then a fabulously long and succulent palate – those famous tannins have been softened and elongated by a decade of ageing, some of it in large, neutral oak barrels.  A rich quite modern style but a wonderful wine.  As a good contrast, the final dry wine was from one of the stars of this appellation which has so many fine, small estates alongside the big boys:  Podere Salicutti, Brunello di Montalcino, 1998.  This again was in the classic austere style with classy sour red cherry and dried fruit prominent and that big tannic/acidic structure now well rounded out.  On a personal note I was delighted that this was good, not least as I had taken the chance to buy a whole 12-bottle case of this mature Brunello (with a couple of others at this tasting) and this was the first bottle broached by me – or them!  No pressure then.  For a full profile of Francesco Leanza’s commitment to producing great Brunello, see my piece here.

5. Vin Santo made from Sangiovese is a rare treat

The final wine of this splendid evening was by courtesy of Laura Perini whose very specialised estate Janet and I visited in the summer on a day of visits near the picturesque tourist Vin Santo with Sangioveseresort and port of Castiglione della Pescaia.  Laura kindly sent  us a bottle for this tasting.  Vin Santo is normally white, a good use for the acidity-retaining Trebbiano grape, but occasionally red versions are made by the same method of semi-drying the grapes before pressing and then ageing in wood.  The class of wine is given the name Occhio di Pernice, pheasant’s eye, which no doubt helps when selling it as normally it is expensive (as all quality Vin Santo should be given the production difficulties).  Sestosenso, DOC Vin Santo Montereggio di Massa Marittima, is a simple, delicious example.  Moderately aromatic, in the glass it developed chocolate and coffee notes (presumably oak derived) to go with the red fruit of Sangiovese. 

While I need no persuading of the merits of Sangiovese as a grape variety and Janet is a self-styled Sangiovista, this was an excellent introduction to the quality and ageing potential of central Italy’s most important grape variety.  Most important areas were present, even if we missed Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the wines of the Marche and the Sangiovese-based Super Tuscans, eg Tignanello.  The wines here were of a very high quality, earthy, savoury and structured.  The non-Italian examples were surprisingly good given Sangiovese’s reputation for not being much of a traveller.  Given Italian love of sparkling wine somebody will be make a sparkling version … no shortage of acidity, not overly fruity, controlling the tannins will be the thing, so perhaps a blanc de noir is the next big thing! 

And on the subject of sparkling wines, as an aperitif we also had a superb complex Cava, reputedly among the best: Kripta, Cavas Agustí Torelló, Cava Brut Nature, Gran Reserva, 2002, with powerful autolytic notes that would give many top Champagnes a run for their money.  Great bottle shape too – obviously you will have a sommelier on hand to hold the bottle for you.  Thanks to all who contributed the wines to make this such a special tasting. 

  we have a problem Houstonwhat problem?KriptaEnglish wild boar

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